Taking really good fireworks photos is not actually that hard but most people take terrible blurry fireworks photos because they don’t research how to take good fireworks photos, don’t have the right camera equipment and fail to plan ahead to find the best vantage point location to take the photos from.
Location, Location, Location for Fireworks Photos
The best photos will be from the best vantage points. Scout out possible vantage points a few days beforehand at the same time of night you’ll be taking fireworks photos to see what lighting conditions, viewing angles etc are like.
Once you’ve chosen a vantage point make sure you turn up several hours early with lots of time to spare (or in the case of New Years Eve, Independence Days etc turn up at the beginning of the day). The early photographer gets the best shots.
There are also other considerations in choosing a location. Find out which way the wind is blowing and get upwind, Fireworks create smoke and if the wind blows it towards your position it not only blocks the shot but makes it uncomfortable to shoot.
From the right position you can use the smoke to your advantage. As the fireworks program builds, the smoke reflects light and can help define the shot.
Look for a unique position. It’s not always easy to get approval to shoot from an unusual location, but the results can be worth the effort
– Fireworks Photo Tips From Smithsonian Photographers
Best Camera Equipment for Fireworks Photos
- You have to use a tripod to make sure your camera is perfectly still so photos which take several seconds to record the light don’t get blurred. If you don’t have the space to carry along a big tripod or can’t afford one consider using a Gorillapod.
- If you own or can borrow an SLR camera which has manual settings use that. Compact cameras are mostly automatic and not good at taking photos at night for several seconds or more.
- If you can get a remote release for your SLR use it to trigger taking photos rather than pressing the camera shutter which can cause the camera to vibrate and blur photos
Best Camera Settings for Fireworks Photos
- For gods sake turn your camera’s flash off! Leaving the camera on auto-flash will ruin your fireworks photos and the extra light could spoil the shots of photographers next to you.
- Manually focus to the farthest point in photo background eg: big bridge, building. Or better yet just set the focus to infinity (farthest away).
- If you only have a compact camera use Night/Fireworks/Starry Sky mode to force it to take longer exposures. If it doesn’t have these modes use Landscape mode.
- If possible force your camera to use a low ISO setting eg: ISO 100 to try and make sure the resulting photos are high quality with a proper black background and coloured fireworks not washed out white streaks with a grey sky.
- Which White Balance is best? Definitely not Auto setting! Daylight will make fireworks photos warmer, emphasizing reds while Tungsten setting will make photos cooler emphasizing blues.
- Shutter speed: probably between 1 and 10 seconds but by all means try longer exposures and see if you can get good results. If you have an SLR, Bulb setting is best so you can open the shutter and close it at the exact instant the fireworks start/stop
- Consider using Long Exposure Noise Reduction for exposures of more than 30 seconds
Creative Options for Fireworks Photos
Trying really long exposure eg: 30 seconds or more with a wide angle lense. On bulb setting take a photo of one fireworks burst, cover the lense with a piece of black cardboard, take away the cardboard for another fireworks burst in a different part of the sky, repeat.
Photos of just fireworks against a black sky get boring after a while. Try framing your photos so silhouettes of people are in the foreground and fireworks in the background or famous buildings are in the background or other more imaginative techniques.
If you’ve got a tripod setup that can securely hold your camera in a vertical position try that because fireworks go off vertically but most people photograph them in landscape horizontal mode.